Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost. Pentecost comes from the Greek word “Pentecostes” which means “Fiftieth.” As we celebrate this Feast we commemorate the sending of the Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior or the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in particular, and the Church in general fiftieth day after Jesus had risen from the dead.
We also celebrate the birthday of the universal Church, because as you know, today the Church was fully born, through the breath of Christ, the Holy Spirit. As Pope Paul VI wrote:
“Today, as you know, the Church was fully born, through the breath of Christ, the Holy Spirit; and in the Church was born the Word, the witness to and promulgation of salvation in the risen Jesus; and in him who listens to this promulgation is born faith, and with faith a new life, an awareness of the Christian vocation and the ability to hear that calling and to follow it by living a genuinely human life, indeed a life which is not only human but holy. And to make this divine intervention effective, today was born the apostolate, the priesthood, the ministry of the Spirit, the calling to unity, fraternity and peace” (Paul VI, “Address”, 25 May 1969).
There are three most important reasons why Jesus promised then sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples and to his Church which he established on the foundation of the apostles:
First, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to guide her to the whole truth. If you still recall “God wills all men to be saved and to come to the fullness of the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4), that is, Jesus, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). This is the context why Jesus said, “When the Holy Spirit comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13). What Jesus had said in Jn 8:31-32, “If you remain in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” will ultimately be realized through the intervention and assistance of the Holy Spirit to the disciples after Jesus’ departure.
In what ways the Holy Spirit will guide the Church to the whole truth?
· It is through the Scripture. Paul is very clear about this in his letter to Timothy: “All scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, correction, and training in holiness so that man of God may be fully competent equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15). Hence, read, study, pray with the Scripture and be a walking Bible which even the illiterate person can read and understand. Be reminded of the words of St. Jerome: “Ignorance of Christ is ignorance of the Scripture.”
- It is through the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church. St. Paul is also very clear about this authority of the Church to teach and proclaim Christ and his Gospel when he wrote: “The Church is steward and teacher of the mysteries of God.” Let us therefore, listen to the teaching of the Church especially in the areas of faith and moral. As Jesus himself warned: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
Second, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to the Church to be the source of forgiveness and holiness. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once curiously interviewed by the reporter whether she felt uneasy to hear some people calling her “living saint?” In reply she simply said, “What is something extraordinary about that? Are we not all called to be saints? Sanctity or holiness is to be perfect and mature in our love of God and neighbor and to be another Christ in the world. How do we know that we are somehow already in the state of holiness? As St. Paul says, “When it is no longer I who lives in me but Christ.”
Holiness requires conversion of heart on our part. Conversion requires repentance. Repentance requires humble recognition of our sinfulness and wickedness before God. Recognition of our sinfulness and wickedness to be true and fruitful requires confession and forgiveness of sins through the ministry of reconciliation. This is the reason why in the Gospel Jesus said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23). This is also the context why the formula of absolution contained: “Send you Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. And through the ministry of the Church may God give pardon and peace. I absolve you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Third, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to the Church to empower her to fulfill the saving mission entrusted by Christ. I think it worth recalling that Jesus before he ascended to heaven and seated at the right hand of the Father, he gathered his disciples and gave them a mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:22); “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15); “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Mt 28:19). Jesus Christ last words before his return to the Father constitute a “missionary mandate”.
The goal of missionary activity is to make the Good News of Salvation reach the farthest ends of the earth; the Church began to spread it on the day of Pentecost itself when the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room. By evangelizing the nations, the Church fulfills her own vocation, because she exists in order to evangelize (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14).
Although the feast of Pentecost is the end of the Easter season, Pentecost is a beginning. It is the birthday of the Church. Pentecost is a grand beginning more than it is a grand finale.
The day of the first Christian Pentecost began with 120 people receiving the Holy Spirit at 9 AM (see Acts 1:15; 2:15), and these 120 brought the Holy Spirit to 3,000 people before the day was over (see Acts 2:41). The next day those 3,000 tried to reach several more thousands (see Acts 4:4). Over the centuries, some Christians continued to share Pentecost with others (e.g. Acts 9:17; 19:2ff), but some have “dropped the ball” and quenched the Spirit (see 1 Thes 5:19). At present, over two billion people have received the Holy Spirit through Baptism. Now we are to share this Pentecost with over four billion people as soon as possible. When we do, the Spirit, as promised, will have renewed the face of the earth (Ps 104:30). Then Jesus will return; the world will end; and we who have been faithful in constantly proclaiming Pentecost will be with the Lord forever in perfect, infinite love.
As Pope John Paul II wrote in his Angelus’ message in 1980: The Church does not cease – cannot cease – to go with the Gospel to all those who do not yet know it. In the same way as she does not cease to return with the Gospel to all those who have strayed from it. She does so heedless of the difficulties that accumulate on her missionary way. She does so in the spirit of the Apostle, who wrote: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). The whole Church and everyone in the Church who lets himself be guided by the spirit of responsibility for the Gospel, must repeat the same thing. “The mission of the Church – the Second Vatican Council stated – is carried out by means of that activity through which, in obedience to Christ’s command, moved by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, the Church makes itself fully present to all men and peoples in order to lead them to the faith, freedom and peace of Christ by the example of its life and teaching, by the sacraments and other means of grace” (Ad Gentes, 5).
“Missionary activity is a matter for all Christians, for all dioceses and parishes, Church institutions and associations” (Redemptoris Missio, n.2). “The Lord’s call to proclaim the Good News is still valid today: indeed it is ever more urgent. The call to mission acquires a singular urgency, particularly if we look at that part of humanity which still does not know Christ or recognize Him. Like Paul, we are cursed if we do not preach the Gospel. Preach, therefore, Christ and his Gospel in season and out of season!” (Pope John Paul II, 75th anniversary of the World Mission Sunday).
In a noisy world full of confusions and characterized by divisive conflicts the Holy Spirit can be our Advocate – a teacher, a guide, helper and our intercessor. Turn to Him, therefore, at all times. He is our strength, courage, consolation and inspiration. He stays constantly by our side as he leads us to holiness